Monday, March 9, 2020

Lifeline Freight and Passenger Ferry Services Acquisition Receives Approval

Unions Watch to See if Employment Practices Improve
Shipping News Feature

UK – Condor Ferries, which carries around 100,000 freight units between the British and French mainland, and which has been up for sale since 2018, finally had acceptance this week from the authorities for the bid from a consortium, which included Brittany Ferries, in an acquisition which was first proposed last November.

Although Brittany Ferries gets the headlines regarding the deal the French group is in truth a minor partner with newly formed Columbia Threadneedle European Sustainable Infrastructure Fund (ESIF) providing the bulk of the funds. Condor Ferries has been acquired from Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund II, managed by Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets, with ESIF being a new open-ended fund that invests in European mid-market equity assets. Heiko Schupp, Global Headof Infrastructure Investments at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, commented:

“We are delighted that the transfer of ownership of Condor Ferries to ESIF and our consortium partner Brittany Ferries is complete. Condor Ferries marks the first investment of ESIF and I am encouraged by the client interest we have received in the strategy to date. The fund’s evergreen structure suits long-term, income-producing infrastructure assets such as Condor Ferries, with its attractive market fundamentals and stable financial position.

”The management team has extensive industry experience and strong relationships within the Channel Islands, and we look forward to working with them and the local stakeholders on maintaining and developing the company’s crucial ferry services between the Channel Islands, the UK and France.”

ESIF says it draws on Columbia Threadneedle’s macro-economic and company research across multiple asset classes and geographies as well as working closely with Responsible Investment colleagues in targeting investments with clear sustainability business practices, and that manage risks around environmental and social impact.

This last is likely to be tested in short order. Condor has been subject to ongoing protests by unions because of its employment practices, some aimed directly at this acquisition. Seafarers union RMT responded to confirmation of the sale by demanding that the new owners take urgent action to resolve a long-running pay and conditions dispute.

The union has consistently protested against seafarer pay rates below the National Minimum Wage in the UK and of Jersey and Guernsey which it says sees local seafarers and industry conditions undermined by imported crew. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:

“It is good to see the end of Macquarie’s tenure which will be remembered for safety failures, crew exploitation and minimum service levels. However, Brittany Ferries and their private backers in the US should be under no illusions, there can be no ‘business as usual’ with crewing conditions and trade union recognition on the vessels working on the routes between Poole and Portsmouth and the Channel Islands.

“With our trade union comrades in France, we are seeking to meet Condor’s new owners to ensure that collective bargaining agreements with the RMT and other domestic unions apply to vessels on all Brittany Ferries operated Condor routes. This has the potential to offer a bright new future of increasing local jobs and training, as well as improving service and safety standards on these ferry services which are the backbone of the economy on the Channel Islands.”

For his part current Condor Ferries CEO Paul Luxon was quick to express his feelings regarding the sale to the consortium of a company founded in the Channel Islands in 1964 to provide life line ferry services, saying:

“We are delighted that the formal transfer of ownership has been completed following the initial announcement last November. As a company, Condor’s immediate focus is to continue preparing for the season. We fully recognise we play a vital role in supporting the visitor economies of Jersey and Guernsey alongside our commitment, for over 70 years, to providing essential freight services and travel options for Islanders.

”The new shareholders share our vision for maintaining and developing ferry services and we will be working with them, along with local stakeholders, on long term plans that include fleet replacement and investment.”